If asked whether Muslim-Americans should be treated fairly, most Americans would answer “yes.” However, America has had its struggles with racism, bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination in its history and it seems that Muslim-Americans are now on the receiving end of these hateful reactions. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001 by Al-Qaeda terrorists, Muslim-Americans have had to deal with mistrust, fear, discrimination, and greater scrutiny. For instance, Muslim-Americans experience traveling restrictions, extra airport searches, denial of immigration cases, and deportations. Just because some Muslims commit horrific atrocities in the name of Islam does not mean that all Muslims are responsible for such actions. There needs to be a more fair way of viewing current issues. There must be a balance between security concerns and protecting civil rights.
Muslim-Americans are essential in stopping the spread of extremism through their knowledge and influence. According to the Islamic Resource Group, there are an estimated seven million Muslims living in the United States. The demographics of the American Muslims consists of 33% South Asian, 30% African American, 27% Arab, 3% African, 2% Southeast Asian, and 5% others. Most of the Muslim-Americans are highly educated, tax paying citizens who contribute positively to society. The vast array of mosques, schools, and social service organizations is a testimony to the richness Muslim-Americans contribute to America’s cultural diversity.
Al-Qaeda is an extremist terrorist organization that has done much harm to Islam and Muslims as well. They have victimized more Muslims in their ruthless war than people of other faiths. For example, innocent Muslims are killed every day in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia in senseless suicide bombings perpetrated by Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
There are concerted efforts to promote anti-Muslim rhetoric and hatred through protest rallies, websites, and books to create fear that undermines peaceful coexistence. It must be emphasized that Muslim-Americans also lost their lives on 9/11 and there were Muslim-Americans among the first respondents to the tragic senseless attacks. The tragedy of September 11, 2001, was clearly an assault on all Americans irrespective of their religious persuasion. Thus, the collective guilt by association of Muslim-Americans adds insult to injury. Muslim-Americans have been harmed so much by the actions of few extremists who have hijacked the religion. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush, to his credit, reassured the nation that Islam is a religion of peace and Americans must not generalize the followers of one-fifth of the world’s population. Those initial statements went a long way in creating an atmosphere of tolerance in which Muslims were spared major backlash. Also, there are many politicians who stood up for constitutional religious rights and spoke firmly in support of religious rights. These include President Barack Obama, New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN, the first Muslim elected to Congress). Representative Ellison is in a unique position to share his real life experience of mingling and praying with American-Muslims in mosques all over the country. He sees the real picture of the American-Muslim community and his perspectives are important to listen to.
The First Amendment of the U.S. constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This shows that American citizens have the right to freely practice any religion. One of the reasons this nation was founded was to provide safe haven for those who escaped religious persecution in Europe. Many have lost their lives while fighting for the rights of all Americans, and denying Muslim-Americans their right would not only be an injustice, but also against the purpose for the establishment of this nation and a dishonor to the memory of those who helped make America the great nation it is today.
America as a nation has gone through many challenges and has overcome them by returning to the key values of the Founding Fathers – freedom and justice for all. African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Jewish-Americans, and Catholic-Americans all faced discrimination in their history. The latest episode is Islamophobia, which is yet another test of America’s resolve to protect the religious and civil rights of all citizens. If the pre-election hysteria of 2010 were to be used as a measure, it would seem that 2011 would create even more tension, as it is the 10th anniversary of the tragic attacks. Americans of all political and religious persuasions need to plan how to counteract the voices of bigotry and division that want to capitalize on creating fear. Muslim-Americans exercise their civic responsibilities as patriotic citizens. They would surely appreciate being treated fairly as all Americans.
*Asma Adam is a student at Al-Amal School in Fridley, MN